India’s first outing at the venue for the opening Test, the beautiful Trent Bridge, was expectedly intense and true to the template that most nets sessions follow. A pitch inspection, stretching, jokes, football, leg-pulling, fielding, top-order facing front-line bowlers, intense conversations with coaches, bursts of laughter, throw-downs and extra classes. The last act: that light-hearted face-off for dressing-room bragging rights where exhausted batsmen bowl aggressive spells to tired but stubborn bowlers.
There was one mild departure from convention though, an unusual stand-out that might have given a hint to India’s playing XI for the Test staring Wednesday.
The Indians seemed to be padding-up in match-day sequence. Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane before the template was disturbed. Next to take guard, in that section of the nets where top bowlers were running in hard, was Stuart Binny and not Rohit Sharma. The Test No.6 was the nets No.7.
It could be a case of Sharma resting after a hectic fielding drill or Binny, warmed-up after his bowling spell, wanting to pad-up early. But the minor ‘switch’ did trigger a question: Was India planning to start the series with four pacers and a spinner?
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Traditionally, India has played it safe in the opening Test of a series. They have packed the side with 7 batsmen, fearing an early collapse in alien conditions. Five bowlers was a luxury they thought they couldn’t afford.
Even so, things have changed in the last two series in South Africa and New Zealand. The batsmen have passed the ‘away’ Test while the bowlers have collapsed. Rare away Test wins have been missed as the Indian bowlers have failed to knock over their rivals on the final day of a Test.
On those disappointing days, Dhoni would stress the importance of a medium-paced all-rounder when playing abroad. Not since Irfan Pathan has the Test team had a bowler with a long run-up who could help the team shorten the opposition tail.
Is Binny is the answer to that old problem? By including him for the England tour party, the selectors have at least addressed the issue. With Nottingham known to assist swing bowlers and Binny scoring 81 not out in the last tour game, Dhoni might be tempted to join the selectors in taking that giant leap of faith.